The proliferation of drones in conflict areas highlight the role of large unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) have in modern conflicts. The USA, China and Israel are currently the sole providers of large UAS, platforms that offer long mission endurance, mission versatility and longer missions. One of the largest, most advanced systems is the Heron TP from Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI).

Equipped with the most advanced avionics, line of sight and satellite communications and multiple mission payloads, Heron TP climbs up to 45,000 ft, high above commercial air traffic routes, where it can operate on missions spanning over 30 hours, carrying 1,000 kg of payloads. The robust structural design features double boom, twin-tail design that are most suitable for such missions, offering better antennae separation, optimal coverage, and a stable platform necessary for precision signal measurements.

New Mission Capabilities

Heron TP is well configured to carry multiple payloads in a large internal payload bay, universal payload attachments and underwing hardpoints. Such payloads include electro-optical systems, SAR and maritime search radars, COMINT and ELINT systems and persistent surveillance systems designed for operation from standoff range.

In addition to the payloads integrated into the aircraft Heron TP can also carry mission payloads in underwing pods. Such EO pods can deliver in real-time a 3D image of the ground scene, other sensors designed for persistent surveillance, provide continuous coverage of large areas, monitoring all movements over time, enabling analysts to follow objects of interests by specific parameters, such as vehicles type, shape and color, define life patterns and identify anomalies from such patterns.

Another new capability supported by the Heron TP is maritime anti-submarine surveillance, integrating maritime surveillance radar, EO payload, magnetic anomaly detector (MAD) and sonobuoys that are dropped to the water and transmit sonar data to the aircraft. With this equipment the Heron can detect submarines underwater and track them at periscope depth. On these missions Herons are launched from land bases but can be controlled from ships at sea.  At twice the speed of other drones, and long mission endurance, the TP can cover larger areas, deep at sea. Flying higher than other drones and using EO payloads covering extremely long range, Heron TP significantly enhances mission capabilities of maritime surveillance and ASW, in its ability to move quickly to new positions and recognize targets without descending to a lower altitude, or from stand-off range.

A Good Year for Heron TP

Operationally deployed with Israel’s Air Force (IAF) since 2011 Heron-TP performed countless missions extended farther and longer than any other manned or unmanned aerial combat system. “90 percent of our activity covers the northern theater, where we are required to provide persistent surveillance and real-time intelligence” 210th squadron leader, Lt. Colonel S. said, “Heron TP enables us to operate farther and extend our vision even longer”. In 2018 the IAF took delivery of additional Heron TPs that significantly increases the UAV fleet size and contribute to increase operational flight hours by 70%.

Heron TP is a multi-mission and multi-payload RPAS integrating cutting-edge technologies from IAI and other sensor manufacturers. The aircraft is designed and built to endure the harshest weather conditions and conforms to the highest safety and reliability standards.

Heron TP's development is the result of IAI's over 40 years of experience in developing RPAS for 50 satisfied customers with more than 1,700,000 cumulative flight hours.

Germany soon become the second operator of Heron TP, following the award of €1 Billion contract to Airbus in June 2018. The contract funds operational leasing of five Heron TP drones, for a period of nine-year. The new systems will replace the Heron I currently in service and will introduce new capability, addressing the German requirements. The project will have a two-year set-up phase, followed by an operational phase lasting a further seven years.

According to Airbus, under the terms of the basic contract, the Bundeswehr will receive five aircraft equipped for reconnaissance missions and capable of carrying weapons, four sets of ground segments, training environments and all system operational services. The basic contract also includes preparing the drones for their use in future countries of operation.

“This project will provide the Bundeswehr with an even more efficient system that will better protect soldiers in a wide range of threat situations as well as the at-risk civilian population,” said Jana Rosenmann, Head of Unmanned Aerial Systems at Airbus. “The modular concept will allow us to provide the Bundeswehr with the capabilities it needs on time for the years to come.”

“We are committed to deliver fully operational system certified to operate in all environments,” IAI Malat VP Marketing, Avi Bleser said. The MALE HERON TP system will get military certification from the German Armed Forces aviation authority in accordance with STANAG 4671 allowing the system to be used around the world. This is supplemented by the integration of collision avoidance capabilities. Airbus is already a Heron TP design organization approved by the German Armed Forces aviation authority and will also become the approved Heron TP manufacturing and maintenance organization for the project.

A month after the German announcement the Indian government approved a $400 procurement of Heron-TP platforms to augment the fleet of Heron Is operated by the Indian Air Force. Similar to the German configuration, these platforms will offer enhanced mission capabilities, addressing an urgent Indian requirement for unmanned weapon carrying platforms. India already operates a large fleet of Heron I and Searcher UAVs also made by IAI, for surveillance and intelligence gathering. The Indian Navy also operates Heron I on maritime surveillance missions. The new Heron TP platform will further extend these capabilities to fly missions higher, farther and with heavier loads, and more versatile payloads.


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